BOCA RATON – Unusual events seem to follow Lane Kiffin, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that his coaching debut, a 42-19 nationally televised loss to Navy, took nearly six hours to complete. Each week we’ll review the previous day’s FAU game in our Four Down Territory segment. In a game that featured the longest touchdown pass in FAU history, a record-breaking scoring performance and weather delays that lasted nearly three hours, there’s plenty to consider from FAU’s Friday night opener against Navy.
Chuck King: FAU under Lane Kiffin didn’t look all that different from the Charlie Partridge era Owls. The quarterback battle overflowed into the game. The Owls played sloppily at times. The play-calling was suspect (Devin Singletary and Buddy Howell combined for SEVEN rushes?). The defense struggled to tackle. Aside from two plays, Willie Wright’s 95-yard touchdown catch and DeAndre McNeal’s 62-yard TD score, Kendal Briles’ Baylor offense lacked pizzazz. A pedestrian offense is not what fans were expecting.
Matt Wilson: FAU couldn’t stop the run or run the ball. The extra week of preparation for Navy that FAU gained by opening the season against the Midshipmen’s unusual flexbone triple option didn’t seem to help. Navy ran for more than 400 yards. Quarterback Zach Abey had 235 yards on 32 carries, scoring twice. Conversely, FAU couldn’t get its ground game moving, totaling 40 yards rushing on 24 carries. Those numbers are deflated because of three bad snaps, which ended up losing FAU 47 yards. Singletary and Howell, FAU’s best backs last year combined for seven rushes totaling 34 yards on the night. Kerrith Whyte had the most of rushes of any FAU back, carrying the ball six times for 36 yards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Chuck King: It’s tempting to go with kicker Greg Joseph, who became FAU’s career scoring leader and broke the program record for the longest field goal, 54 yards, on the same play. True freshman wide receiver Willie Wright showed he’s going to be an electric player for the Owls. But let’s go with linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who was around the ball all night and led all tacklers with 14.
Matt Wilson: Player of the game has to go to Abey – the best player on the field by far. He rushed for 235 yards and added another 110 yards in the air. His best play was a 40-yard TD run midway through the second quarter that gave Navy the lead for good. That was a game-changing moment. On the FAU side, McNeal should blossom into a reliable target for FAU quarterbacks. His four catches tied Henry Bussey for the most by an Owl, and he shook off a defender on one and raced for a 62-yard score.
Chuck King: Running back Devin Singletary is FAU’s best weapon on offense. He carried the ball six times for 26 yards. Backfield mate Buddy Howell may be FAU’s second-best weapon, and he only carried the ball once for eight yards. Yes, Navy tried to force Parr, an unproven quarterback, to make plays, but offensive coordinator Kendal Briles needed to better position Parr to make those plays. Throughout fall camp Kiffin drilled into the media that the Baylor offense was a run-first scheme, yet for some reason on Friday FAU elected not to give the ball to its best weapons.
Matt Wilson: Looking for a spark, Kiffin turned to a quarterback who is physically struggling to throw. He inserted De’Andre Johnson in the third quarter, a move that paid immediate dividends. Johnson guzzled yardage on the ground, but when a poor snap put the Owls in a long-yardage situation Kiffin needed to replace Johnson with Parr so the Owls could run passing plays.
Chuck King: Though Kiffin called the loss “embarrassing,” there were small pockets that offered reason for optimism. Parr throws a nice deep ball. Wright and McNeal can get deep. If Johnson can heal the injury that’s preventing him from throwing with any strength or accuracy, he’s a playmaker. Singletary and Howell likely won’t be limited to seven carries in a single quarter the rest of the season, let alone in an entire game. This team should improve rapidly and could be a factor in Conference USA play. With 30,000 people in the stands, Howard Schnellenberger becomes a loud, perhaps even intimidating venue. Hopefully one “embarrassing” loss won’t deter fans – especially the students – from returning.
Matt Wilson: The hype of the Kiffin era did not amaze the crowd. Packed at the beginning of the game, nearly half the fans departed at halftime. A positive for the Owls is that they were able to get some passing production out of Parr, who went 19-for-30 for 281 yards and two scores. Most of the transfers didn’t factor in the outcome. Only on campus for two weeks, wide receiver John Franklin caught two passes totaling seven yards. None of the transfers on the defensive side of the ball made key tackles. In fact, Jeremiah Taleni’s four tackles were the only ones recorded by a transfer player – graduate or JUCO. One play that could have changed the game was the double pass where Pico Harrison overthrew James Brunson, who inexplicably quit on his route. But even if that play connected it would have been negated by an illegal forward pass penalty. The Owls need to get back to work this week in preparation for their toughest foe of the season in No. 9 Wisconsin. The Badgers’ rushing attack put up 478 yards vs. Utah State on Friday in their 59-10 win.